Washington’s grape industry has spent the last two years developing a comprehensive research plan. The proposal, created by an industry research task force, is now being considered by statewide wine and grape trade groups. The Good Fruit Grower asked grape growers which research topics they believe should be priorities.
Concord grape grower Tom Tudor believes that research to improve juice grape quality should be a priority. Grape quality is impacted by a variety of practices, from canopy and crop load management to water management, he said. "Anything we can do to help growers learn how to improve and fine tune practices that influence quality will help the overall industry."
He also would like to see more information for growers about producing high juice grape yields with low inputs.
Water management has long been a leading research priority, says Dr. Russell Smithyman, director of research for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, but he also identified other issues needing attention.
For example, growers are grappling with how to deal with pests under a sustainable system, he said. "We need more pest management practices that are effective under programs like LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology)."
Smithyman, who is involved in several state and national grape research committees, noted that the grape industry continually reviews its "wish list" of research priorities to stay current with pressing industry needs. Researchers are encouraged to address those priorities in their proposals. Research priorities are also used to guide research funding at the Northwest Center for Small Fruits and the National Grape and Wine Initiative, he explained.
Grape grower Dick Boushey would like to see researchers develop replant strategies for vineyards infected with grape diseases, such as grapevine leafroll. "We’ve got a lot of older blocks in the state and their production is starting to go downhill. Growers need to know what the best replant strategy is. Do you have to fumigate? Will fumigation even kill the virus? And what about nematode populations and their impact on vine health?"
Boushey said he saw many old blocks on Red Mountain this year that seemed to have come to a standstill in terms of production. Because the state’s wine industry is still considered young, many growers do not have experience in dealing with viruses that can diminish grape quality.
"This virus issue could turn into being a big deal," he added.
Grower, Benton City
Fred Artz, who grows wine grapes on Red Mountain, describes himself as a "hard science" kind of guy. He supports more research on soil science and soil fertility, noting that "soils are very important in viticulture."
Artz is also concerned about grape mealybug and its role in spreading grapevine leafroll disease. "As the vineyards in the state get older, we’re seeing more virus problems," he said.
Heath Cleveringa, a tree fruit and Concord grape grower, is a proponent of automation in the vineyard and would like to see researchers continue their efforts on mechanizing and automating all vineyard tasks.
"Automation is the only way we’ll survive in the future," he said, adding that he wants to see technology that helps growers make fewer trips through the orchard and vineyard, as well as technology that will improve fruit quality.
"We need to do more than one task at a time," he said. "Some of the work that Dr. Fran Pierce (Washington State University’s precision agriculture director) is doing with autonomous sprayers handling multiple tasks are on the right track."
Cleveringa acknowledges that robotics are expensive, but automating tasks like pruning will save money in the long term and create a more efficient work force.